"Caterina! I Piselli!"
I turn my head in the direction of her voice, my face lights up. I drop everything and race to the kitchen, grab a big metal bowl and a search around for the smaller ceramic dish we like to use. My hands flick open cupboards and fish around in the sink until I see it nestled in the drying rack and lever it out. Onto the back porch I run, just as Nonna is sitting herself on the edge of the concrete step and dropping the bucket of freshly picked peas at her feet.
She turns and gives me as much of a smile as I ever see from her, a half at best. I can't make eye contact through the tinted glasses she wears, but I know she's seen me as her hand brushes the step beside her, moving it back to the bucket and the task at hand. The ceramic dish goes in between the two of us, with the metal bowl alongside the bucket at her feet. Silently, we set to work. Our fingers are well versed in this task. Pinch the top to the side, and peel the string down the seam to the bottom. The discard goes in the metal bowl as thumbs prise open the pod and scoop the peas out and into the ceramic dish with one swipe. They ping out like buttons being popped off a shirt, landing with a satisfying 'ping'. The shell goes into the metal bowl, and on to the next.
I comment on the size of the crop. "Eh", she nods, continuing with our work. I point out a pod filled with giant, squarish peas crammed to almost bursting in the pod. "Eh", she acknowledges with another momentary glance. It's not those ones we are looking for. A moment later she nudges my arm. "Eh. Guarda. E Perfetto." I turn to see her holding an open pod of startlingly green peas, perfectly sized and shaped. She thumbs them out into our upturned palms, and we move them straight to our mouths, nodding and sighing in appreciation. Those ones are the spoils for the workers, never to make it to the ceramic dish or dinner table. We quietly celebrate this victory, then without so much as a word, we are back to work alongside each other.
These times of quiet are few for my Nonna. She is a force. She can most often be heard calling to my father in Italian about some task or another that needs to be done, with his long-suffering replies being drowned out in a flurry of gesture and talk that just gets louder and faster until he is overwhelmed. Other times, she's charging after one of my brothers, like a mini Italian tornado, whipping up into a frenzy and threatening to rap them on the head with her knuckle...if she could ever catch them. When we shell peas, however, there is nothing else.
With the last pod empty, and without a word, she scoops up the bowl and takes the peas inside to the kitchen. I empty the pods into the compost up the back and return the bowl to the sink where she rinses it and puts it upturned on the rack to dry. Now, she will return to her berating or chasing or gesticulating, while I am free to return to my play. We know there will be more peas to pick and shell in a day or two, another chance to sit and work alongside one another...maybe work on our conversation.